If four days of sweltering temperatures had not already distressed some New Yorkers, the emergency alert that jolted residents’ cellphones on Wednesday afternoon surely did.
“Conserve energy: NYC is urging all households and businesses to immediately limit energy usage to prevent power outages as the intense heat continues,” read the alert, which was sent out citywide around 4 p.m. “Please avoid the use of energy-intensive appliances such as washers, dryers and microwaves. Limit unnecessary use of air conditioning.”
It was the first time the city had used such an alert to try to bring down energy usage, officials said, and it came as the city endured its fourth day in a row of high heat and humidity.
Temperatures climbed into the high 80s starting on Sunday, and broke into the 90s on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the National Weather Service said a temperature of 100 was recorded at La Guardia Airport.
“We are not used to seeing many days in a row of unbroken heat,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Wednesday.
He said the president of Con Edison, the utility that operates the city’s power grid, had told him that the electric system was in danger of experiencing widespread outages if people did not immediately reduce their use of power.
On Wednesday afternoon, at least 1,700 customers in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn were without power, said John Scrivani, the city’s emergency management commissioner, and there were other smaller outages in neighborhoods in other parts of the city.
Mr. de Blasio said that city officials “do not want to see things go from bad to worse.”
“The important thing to realize is we’re at the end of this heat wave, but it really has added up,” he said. “We’re very hopeful the heat will break in the early morning hours tomorrow, but we’ve got to get to that point safely. So, we need everyone to turn things down, turn things off immediately, don’t have lights on if you don’t need them.”
The alert, however, also set off a new level of anxiety about the prospect of outages — and some residents were angered by the suggestion to cut back on air conditioning in temperatures higher than 90 degrees.
Some suggested the city cut back on energy usage in public places such as Times Square.
Allan Drury, a spokesman for Con Edison, said that electrical activity on the grid peaked at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at 12,065 megawatts. That’s a significant jump from last year’s peak in July of 11,740 megawatts, but lower than the record high of 13,322 megawatts set in July 2013.
At 5 p.m. the grid’s megawatt output had dipped to 11,947, about one hour after the city sent out the emergency alert. By 6 p.m. it had decreased to 11,752. The drop is “helpful,” Mr. Drury said, but still higher than last year’s record.
The heat wave in New York City came as soaring temperatures were also scorching much of the West Coast. Climate change has made heat waves worse, and research suggests major American cities are not prepared to deal with the consequences of power failures.
And outages have devastated New York before.
In 2003, a widespread power outage in the Northeast and Midwest prompted the evacuation of office buildings, stranded thousands of commuters and led to a flood of people needing hospital treatment for heat-related afflictions.
There were also widespread blackouts last year after a tropical storm swept through the region, and in July 2019, a blackout left 72,000 customers on the West Side of Manhattan without power for hours, trapping people in subway cars and elevators for some time.